Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and published by Jonathan Cape.
About the Book
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to the American moment, immersed as it is in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.
About the Author
Ocean Vuong is the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 30 languages worldwide. A recipient of a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Grant, he is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.
It is when he is in his twenties that Little Dog writes a letter to his mother. She is never going to be able to read it as she is illiterate. Contained within the letter is the family history that he has unearthed and that he traces his mothers side of the family back to Vietnam. In this letter are some of the experiences that his mother Rose, and grandmother, Lan have suffered during and after the war in Vietnam, before they arrived in America.
Little Dog is son to an American and who is still violent to Rose until the police take him away one day. But growing up in Connecticut is not easy when you are mixed race, and he suffers at school for a plethora of reasons. But he does find what he thinks is love, with another boy, an all American lad called Trevor, but is it not an even relationship, rather one where Little Dog is the submissive partner.
It is not the easiest book to read as he writes about things that a lot of people would count as trigger warnings, i.e. abuse, drugs, mental health issues, cruelty and so on. Yet with his prose, he can make this tender and intimate at one moment and then before you know it, it becomes brutal and violent in the next. Sometimes these are brought together in ways that make for uncomfortable reading. It does feel that he has drawn deep on his and his families experience as he touches on some of the factors that have affected him in his life: race, immigration, acceptance and love. Definitely an experience reading this book and you are unlikely to be unaffected reading it.
Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour and have a look at the website to discover all the other books that have been longlisted.
Buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here. They might not be open at the moment, but may be able to send you a copy.
My thanks to Martina at Midas PR for the copy of the book to read.